The Academy-qualified painter Franc Vozelj has become established as one of the most interesting representatives of Slovene figural painting. His extensive artistic opus, which encompasses an intense sequence of three decades, evinces a trust in the communicative power of the classical subjects of fine art, such as the human figure and still life.
The figural art with modernist innovations which Franc Vozelj gradually mastered on the basis of diverse influences (his education and the artistic opus of the professors at the Ljubljana fine art academy, the array of fine art at the end of the 1970s, certain older artists) had few adherents in Slovene painting around 1980. The »new image« was regarded as the current thing, yet of the orientations that flirted with postmodernism, Vozelj was interested only in a form of new age expressionism, whereby he was also able to look back to older foreign and local examples (such as Francis Bacon, Vladimir Velichkovich and Marij Pregelj). We could say that Vozelj opted for an artistic path which in terms of substantive expression was more moderate, yet formally had more gravitas.
The artistic opus of Franc Vozelj can be divided into individual cycles. In his paintings, drawings and collages, the iconographically strictly defined motif (the human figure) has gone through changes that stretch from the analytically constructive collection of bones and body parts, which was starting to be covered by musculature, to the fully plastic human figure.
In the cycle of figural compositions entitled Homo (lat. man), which he started to paint in the middle of the 1990s, the painting space is dominated by a monumental human figure, which is portrayed in the classical physical proportions – similar to the once characteristic portrayals of Renaissance painting.
In Vozelj’s compositions it was possible to detect the echoes of northern Italian painting from the first third of the 16th century, and of the work of the great masters of Venetian painting, Correggio … This is confirmed by the typically melancholy mood, which is enhanced by a mute, stifled, in the painting sense noble, colour scale imbued with a noble artistic patina, which is dominated by the browns of natural skin colour, ochre and reddish tones, greys, olive green and other finely harmonised colours, which are enlivened here and there by colour emphases.
Vozelj’s paintings have become veritable studies of the gracious female and finely constructed male body, presented in considered poses, twists and contortions. From the figures he started to compose groups of figures, which entered into various mutual relations.
In a literal sense we may speak of the »physiognomy« of the paintings. The painted bodies are indeed the main spatial framework of the paintings. They define and dominate the space. They fall into the space, enter into it or go out of it … The restless, dynamic nudes have subordinated the composition to themselves through their movement, which can change into an eloquently spasmodic motion or turn of the body. An unknown force drives the figures into the chaos of fate. The bearers of the dynamic compositional tension are also still, during the execution of certain movements, at a moment in time like human figures captured in some kind of photograph.
We may interpret Vozelj’s figures as the bearers of metaphorical messages. We may also observe reminiscences of heroic and mythological figures (e.g. the three Graces). In any event we may link them to certain universally human subjects, such as the allegory of the individual who finds himself naked and unprotected in an alien environment.
The poses of the figures indicate their psychological states. Man is hemmed in, and must struggle for his existence and identity. Perhaps for that reason the faces and indications of gender in the painted figures evade the visual field, and the compositions are titled only with sequence numbers.
Interestingly the painted backgrounds in the figural compositions are tied to the principles of abstract artistic expression. The painter’s »testing of the relationship between figural art and abstraction« is not focused solely on the meeting point between the figure and the abstract background. Even individual areas or details of the figures and still life function as an abstract painting, which is also true of the compositions where Vozelj has started to distribute the figures before a specific background (a wall, a rock face), indicated by painted shadows.
In some parts of the painting Vozelj has enhanced the depicted bodies with solid drawing. This involves the combined effect of the drawing interventions in the image, which is covered by painted areas. The painter formed them through the gradual application of tiny colour areas on the surface of the canvas. Cut out pieces of magazines and newspapers are also set in the colour fields. These collage additions are aesthetic signs and reflections of the time to which the artist belongs. A special section of Vozelj’s art comprises independent collages of smaller format and works on paper in the technique of graphite or wash drawing, which he presents more rarely at exhibitions. They point to the exact nature of his artistic communication.
When alongside the heroic male figure, female nudes became increasingly prevalent from the mid-1990s, and Vozelj delved into a warmer colour scale, it was no longer possible to overlook the sensuality of the painted nudes, or their easy poses and movements. Indications of processes of communication between the depicted figures started to appear, and it seemed that they were coming closer together. Several compositions, in which a man and woman appear as a couple, could be linked into a group of »erotic« paintings, where the decent use of sensory emphasis should be noted. In the period from 2001 to 2006 Vozelj painted figural motifs of smaller formats. These were followed by diptychs and triptychs of gallery formats. The monumental figures are portrayed semi-plastically, in all their anatomical detail, while certain details are drawn.
Although Franc Vozelj is focused intensively on motifs of floral still lifes, he has only recently started showing them at exhibitions. In Vozelj’s still lifes there are no objects to remind us of the brevity of human life. The convincingly depicted flowers in vases, dishes, decanters and other objects should be understood less as allegories of transience (i.e. natura morta, still lifes of the Vanitas type) than as symbols of beauty.
Still lifes have undergone a similar development to that of figural composition. They are marked with all the constant features of Vozelj’s artistic manuscript. Mention should be made of the convincing artistic emphases, collage, the traces of drawing, the gentle stylisation and geometric analysis, as well as the search for harmony between the motif and background, the darker margin, which closes the space of the painting, the subordination of the motif to the structure of the painter’s surface and the characteristic fusing of colour, which Vozelj achieves through virtuoso brush strokes.
(transl. authorized by Damir Globochnik)